AUBURN — The City Council put off a decision Monday that would have directed the Planning Board to review homeless shelter related uses in zoning districts.

Officials said the five-month postponement will give city staff until May to come up with options for changing Auburn’s zoning ordinances to allow for shelter uses.

Auburn’s zoning citywide does not allow overnight homeless shelters, except for survivors of domestic abuse and human trafficking, for which some beds are available.

Several people argued Monday that the proposal to ask the Planning Board to review city zoning was too broad, and that as policymakers, the City Council should be guiding decisions related to the homelessness crisis.

Former councilor Andy Titus said sending the issue to the Planning Board amounted to “kicking the can down the road.”

Councilor Dana Staples said he introduced the agenda item in order to “start taking some steps” toward addressing the region’s homelessness issue, especially as recent efforts to collaborate with Lewiston and Androscoggin County government on a temporary winter shelter have stalled.


However, officials said there still may be options for a temporary shelter, and as those are explored, staff can take a closer look at Auburn’s zoning districts.

A tent sits empty Oct. 8 on the banks of the Little Androscoggin River in Auburn. Many homeless people camp on the banks of the river where they are close to services, but less likely to be chased away. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file

Mayor Jason Levesque said he’s wary of the city acting alone without the help of local nonprofit organizations. He said the recent process in Lewiston, which yielded a new shelter ordinance and zoning rules, was a “year-long process, wrought with politics and division and at the end of the day, they still don’t have a shelter.”

“We have other options. I hate to see the Planning Board get bogged down with what will inevitably become a political decision,” he said.

Councilor Steve Milks said sending the issue to the Planning Board would be “putting the cart before the horse.”

“Our job is policy,” he said, adding that the council should look at locations for temporary units or facilities.

More than one official urged residents or organizations, who may not be happy with how slow things are moving, to take advantage of a city charter provision that allows anyone to request a zone change by petition, with signatures of 25 registered voters.


City Manager Phil Crowell said city staff has been working on the temporary shelter project for several weeks, but much of it did not take place in front of the public due to the funding impasse with the county.

While the county allocated roughly half of what Auburn had proposed, Crowell said a smaller project could still occur.

“Our team was ready to go,” he said.

However, staff said when they looked at potential locations for a “shelter village,” and the distance to other service providers, the “difference was dramatic” between locations in Auburn versus locations in Lewiston.

Crowell said with the funding allocated, they could do 24 units instead of the original 48.

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